When Employees Test Positive

Follow best practices if an employee tests positive for the coronavirus.

By Alexandra Walsh

As stay-at-home and shelter-in-place restrictions lift in communities, companies that have been in continual operation providing essential services—such as water well contracting firms—throughout the COVID-19 pandemic must remain vigilant.

Members of the community—and employees and their family members—are now mobile, making the need for health and hygiene best practices in the workplace greater than ever.

Making sure those practices happen falls to those with human resources responsibilities at companies. To aid in those efforts, the American Industrial Hygiene Association has compiled best practices for construction-related industries to help minimize the risk of transmitting disease if an employee becomes ill or comes into contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19.

Step by Step

If a positive COVID-19 case among the workforce is identified, quickly disinfect spaces the worker occupied and complete contact tracing for anyone who may have come in contact with the employee.

Contact tracing and sharing of employee information should be done under the guidance of human resources due to privacy requirements of HIPAA or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If an Employee Tests Positive

  • The employee should be isolated to the area they are currently in.
  • Those working with the employee should also be isolated and all parties follow social distancing rules.
  • Clients the employee came into contact with should be notified.
  • The employee should be removed from work for a minimum of 14 days.
  • The employee should follow primary care physician instructions.
  • The employee should follow CDC and health care guidance.
  • The employee should follow CDC return-to-work protocol and the company’s return-to-work process.
  • Employees who are ill with non-COVID-19-related symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) should be sent home for a minimum of 72 hours and only return to work after 72 hours of being symptom-free without aid of medication.
  • If an employee is experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell) and has been exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive, they must follow the CDC exposure protocol related to the jobsite (see Resources box).
  • Cleaning and disinfecting should be done immediately by trained personnel who must wear appropriate personal protective equipment and face coverings. They must dispose of their gloves after use and wash their hands and face when finished.
  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants should be effective. The CDC has compiled a list of recommended bleach solution mixture for cleaning
    (see Resources box).

Contact Tracing

After immediately isolating, cleaning, and disinfecting after an employee tests positive for COVID-19, an employer must begin to contact trace the movement of the employee.

  • Trace 72 hours for cleaning of locations where the employee worked or came in contact with.
  • Trace 48 hours prior to onset of symptoms for people the affected employee had direct contact with.
  • The company should notify clients, subcontractors, or other business associates of the situation (involve HR to ensure privacy requirements are followed and maintained).
  • HR personnel should reach out and provide supportive care to the worker and family.
  • Follow CDC guidelines and exposure protocol for critical infrastructure workers.
  • Communicate and reinforce with employees that they may have been exposed and closely monitor their health, temperature, and current symptoms as identified by CDC.
  • Provide employees with additional PPE and monitoring.

Screening and Temperature Checks

When an employee tests positive, all other employees should take their temperature at home or before entering a worksite. An infrared camera or thermal imaging camera can be used to take employees’ temperature at the jobsite and allows for accurate information without the need to touch the employee.

  • Employees who monitor their temperature at home should update their supervisor if they have a temperature exceeding 100.4°F.
  • Any employee who has a temperature that exceeds 100.4°F should not be able to access the jobsite until their temperature has broken for a minimum of 72 hours without medication.
  • Using a medical questionnaire, any employee who answers “Yes” to any of the following questions should not access the jobsite.
    o Have you, or a person you have been in close contact with, been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the last 14 days? (Close contact is 6 feet or less for more than 10 minutes.)
    o Have you experienced any cold or flu-like symptoms in the last 72 hours (fever, shortness of breath, cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing)?
    o Have you traveled out of country or to a virus hot spot in the last 14 days?

Customers and Visitors

Any customer and visitor to company headquarters or a jobsite should follow the same practices of social distancing.

  • Use a face covering when entering the jobsite and inspecting or meeting with workers.
  • Do not greet anyone with a handshake.
  • Do not share clipboards, but rather use a white board to demonstrate any procedures in the field.
  • Do not visit the jobsite and stay home if you are symptomatic.

Finally, a company should consider using virtual technology to track projects and provide updates to reduce visits by customers or engineers and inspectors doing project reviews.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.